Written by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould
Directed by Vince Gilligan
The year-long wait for Better Call Saul Season 3 is over, and as a reward for my patience, the first episode of the season (“Mabel”) opened exactly the way I was hoping it would: our annual 6-or-so minutes of Cinnabon Gene in all his black-and-white glory (or indignity, depending on how you look at it).
While Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town” plays—and what an absolutely perfect song choice— we watch a day in the life of Gene the Cinnabon Manager. The humdrum, physically demanding labor in his new life as a bakery manager is worlds away from Saul Goodman lounging behind his cocobolo desk with a decanter of scotch and a safe full of money. Gene takes his lunch break, which he spends sitting alone on a mall bench, eating the world’s saddest lunch. Note the lunchbox:
Many Better Call Saul fans (McWexler shippers in particular) were quick to remember Kim in her KC Royals t-shirt in Season 2, which makes the scene that much more tragic.
Gene’s quiet lunch, spent eating Bugles and reading a book, is interrupted when a young man comes running around the corner. He is being pursed by security for shoplifting and wordlessly pleads with Gene not to give him up before he hides in a photo booth. I cannot be the only one who was reminded of the first appearance of Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, escaping from the meth house out the window and caught in the act by Walt. Gene may not be thinking of Jesse so much as his own misspent youth as Slippin’ Jimmy, but either way, this is a moment of sheer terror for Gene.
Since his great escape, he has spent his life trying to fly under the radar and avoid any run-ins with the police. Now he is face-to-face with Omaha PD, and when he’s asked if he saw the kid, he silently points to the photo booth. Gene looks horrified with himself as he rats the kid out, but as Gene watches them take him into custody a switch inside him flips. He stands up and yells at the kid to say nothing and get a lawyer and we see the Saul Goodman come out of him for just a moment before he turns back into Gene. It’s all the more shocking because this is the same man who, in the Season 2 opener, spent hours locked inside a trash room to avoid the cops. The whole experience has Gene shook and he tries to shake it off and return to the daily grind at the bakery, but in the middle of frosting a tray of buns, he hits the floor like a ton of bricks.
The episode cuts to the opening theme and we are left to wonder what exactly happened to Gene. My personal opinion is that he had a massive panic attack and passed out, but I can’t rule out the possibility that it was something far, far worse.
The episode picks up right where we left off in the Season 2 finale. Chuck has just secretly recorded Jimmy confessing to his Mesa Verde felony crimes. Jimmy, blissfully ignorant of this fact, helps Chuck take down the electricity shield he put up as part of his plan to nail Jimmy. Chuck talks a good game about Jimmy being a con artist, but he is just as capable of pulling an elaborate scheme to get what he wants. The brothers McGill are not as different as Chuck would have everyone believe.
At Jimmy points out to Kim later on in the episode, there are about 10 minutes when Chuck and Jimmy act like brothers again. Jimmy finds an old book on the shelf, The Adventures of Mabel, which Chuck—not their mother, as he so aggressively points out—used to read to Jimmy when he was a child. They reminisce about the old days but it’s not long before Chuck drags Jimmy back to the present, telling him he will never forget what Jimmy has just admitted to and he’ll pay for what he’s done.
Meanwhile, back at Wexler and McGill’s One Stop Lawyer Shop, Kim is busy taking care of Jimmy’s clients. Jimmy dumped them on her last minute when he got called to Chuck’s and she’s clearly not pleased about it because she’s already got more work than she can handle with the Mesa Verde case (and a guilty conscience about how she got it). Jimmy offers to take the wills off her hands but, since they aren’t partners, those clients are now Kim’s responsibility. As usual, Jimmy doesn’t care that it’s illegal for him to do her work and he offers his assistance but Kim isn’t having it. She’s already trying (and failing) to ignore Jimmy’s Mesa Verde stunt and she’s reached capacity when it comes to dealing with Jimmy’s blatant disregard for the law.
It’s clear that Jimmy is burdened by what happened with Chuck and wishes he could talk about it with Kim but she’s made it clear that he is never to speak of the incident with her ever again. Still, she can sense that he’s upset about whatever it was that happened between them and she’s sympathetic towards him.
In one of my favorite scenes from an episode filled with great scenes, Chuck plays the tape recording for Howard, who is less than pleased with the situation. Hamlin’s Five-Stages-Of-Grief face journey in this scene really says it all.
Hamlin is pissed on several different levels. The first and most obvious being that he’s just heard Jimmy admit to screwing his firm out of a huge case. More importantly, though, Hamlin is pissed at Chuck for his deceit and for pulling his own stunt to get Jimmy’s confession. As he points out, a secretly recorded tape with problematic chain of evidence isn’t going to fly in court and the Mesa Verde people wouldn’t take them back even if they heard the tape. More to the point, Hamlin knows that Chuck already knows these things and that he must have some sinister plan for that tape.
The scene ends and we don’t find out if Chuck fills Hamlin in on his endgame, but I suspect he might for two reasons. The first is that Howard is already furious that he’s been kept in the dark this long and will likely insist on knowing what the plan is moving forward. Secondly, I think Chuck is actually dying to tell him because he’s proud of himself. Chuck has beaten Jimmy at his own game and he feels vindicated after the public embarrassment and self-doubt he felt after Jimmy’s sabotage. What Howard will do with the information (if he gets it) remains to be seen, but if there’s one thing I know about Howard Hamlin it’s that he likes things above board and running smoothly. If this stunt of Chuck’s is going to make any waves for HHM, Hamlin might try to nip it in the bud to save face.
Back at the office, Jimmy’s got an unexpected visitor: Captain Bauer from the Air Force Base he lied his way onto in last season’s “Fifi.” The Captain has since seen Jimmy’s commercial, which included footage of the B-29 and “Fudge Talbot” the make-believe WWII vet Jimmy hired to be in his commercial. Jimmy tries to play dumb but the Captain sees right through him. To me, Jimmy is very Saul in this scene. When the Captain confronts him with his lies, Jimmy is condescending, argumentative, and even angry. It’s a more aggressive side of Jimmy that we haven’t seen before.
When the Captain tells him to pull the commercial or face the consequences, Jimmy goes so far as to threaten him. There’s a moment, after the Captain calls him an “ambulance chasing piece of shit,” where you can see Jimmy lose it and he responds as if he’s talking to Chuck and not Captain Bauer. He snaps out of it quick and goes back to being an asshole and the Captain tells him (quite ominously given Jimmy’s current circumstances), “The wheel is gonna turn. It always does.” Bauer leaves but something tells me was haven’t heard the last of this.
Kim has a meeting with Paige in the Mesa Verde lobby. On top of Jimmy’s work, she’s managed to get all her Mesa Verde work done in three days AND get the hearing moved up. Paige is as impressed with Kim as she is disgusted with Chuck, who’s arrogance at the last hearing she will not soon forget. She tells Kim how Chuck insulted and condescended to her during his flip-out at their last hearing, and while Kim is QUITE familiar with Chuck McGill’s brand of condescension, she’s clearly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation is taking. Paige is doing a bit of light trash-talking on HHM because she still believes that it was HHM (specifically Chuck) who screwed up the paperwork. As much as Kim may agree with Paige’s assessment of the high-powered men at HHM who want to pass the buck when a mistake gets made, in this particular instance Kim knows who is really at fault. Kim asks Paige if she can have the documents until morning so she can make sure everything is perfect. She knows all too well what even the smallest mistake could cost her.
Back at the office, Jimmy is painting over the rainbow in their lobby, waiting for Kim to finish up her work. Kim has been busy double-checking all the Mesa Verde documents and in the most #relatable moment in BCS history, she obsesses over a single punctuation mark. She goes back and forth between a period and a semicolon and a double hyphen, which is something that anyone with a perfectionist streak has definitely done. But, in this case, it’s not just Kim’s perfectionism that causes her to obsess over the tiny details. Kim is feeling the pressure not only because a single transpositional error was enough to screw HHM’s chances with Mesa Verde but because she is carrying the guilt of knowing how she got the case. The Mesa Verde case is ill-gotten gains for Kim and since she’s decided not to recuse herself, she’s gonna make damn sure she doesn’t make any mistakes, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
Ernie arrives at Chuck’s place with the usual ice and groceries, as well as a special delivery of some batteries, which Ernie has thoughtfully packaged in some aluminum foil. Chuck treats Ernie with his usual amount of disdain and orders him to put the batteries in the tape recorder. In doing so Ernie accidentally turns it on and hears part of Jimmy’s confession. Chuck flips out and screams at him to turn it off and tells him that he’s not allowed to tell anyone because there will be terrible, life-changing consequences. Then he goes so far as to (vaguely) threaten Ernie when he says, “We don’t want you to get into trouble. If something were to happen to you because of this, I’d feel sick about it.” (Sure you would, Chuckles. Sure you would.) Ernie promises to keep the secret and goes back to putting Chuck’s groceries away, and we see Chuck crack a devilish, self-satisfied smile in Ernie’s direction, which leads me to believe it was no accident that Ernie heard part of that tape.
Will someone please save Ernie from this evil man? He deserves so much better and I can’t take watching much more of Chuck abusing him. Look at the poor guy.
“Mabel” also finds Mike Ehrmantraut exactly where we left him last season: in the middle of the desert, searching for whoever left the note on his window telling him not to kill Hector Salamanca. Mike speeds out of there to a safe distance and checks his car for a tracking device. There’s nothing obvious on the surface so he drives to a salvage yard and takes his car apart piece by piece. He’s pretty much given up and is sitting in the auto shop waiting for a cab when he has a Eureka moment. He goes back out to his car and pries open the gas cap, which has the tracker inside.
Because he is Mike, he’s got more than one car, and when he gets home he checks the gas cap of the vehicle he uses in his day-to-day, non assassin-y life. Whoever has been watching him has got that one covered, too, but (as always) Mike has a plan. He takes down the information for the tracker and puts it back where he found it.
He goes to work with the tracker in his car and it’s all business as usual, but in the middle of his night shift at the parking garage, he takes the cap off his car and leaves it in the rafters. He leaves to go meet the Caldera the Sketchy Vet, who is not too pleased to be called out to the rail yard in the middle of the night, but Mike pays Caldera big bucks to get him an identical tracker.
Once he gets the tracker, Mike’s plan unfolds in another classic Mike-Being-Smarter-Than-Everyone extended sequence. He places the new tracker he just bought in his gas cap and drains the battery on the old one by hooking it up to a radio. Then he sets himself up at the window with some pistachios and waits. And waits. And waits. Finally a mysterious figure comes to replace it. The mystery man doesn’t know he is taking Mike’s new one and now Mike is able to track the people who are tracking him. It’s Classic Mike Ehrmantraut and I loved every single second of it. I also love that Mike’s says like five words throughout this entire episode.
The episode ends with Mike getting in his car to follow whatever unlucky lackeys were sent to change out the tracker. Presumably, this will bring him one step closer to meeting Gus Fring, who is set to make his first Better Call Saul appearance in the next episode.
Gus isn’t the only one returning, though. Episode 3×02 will bring back another familiar face from Breaking Bad. No spoilers here, but I will say that I’ve been praying to see this person on BCS since the first season of the show and I couldn’t be more excited for them to enter the mix. If you watch this clip from Episode 3×02 (“Witness”) and you know your Breaking Bad canon, you’ll be able to figure out who it is.
See y’all next week when FRING’S BACK!